In the background of almost every Olympic event this week have been large swaths of empty seats.
One International Olympic Committee member suggested Monday that school children and unarmed soldiers be let in to help fill venues.
Gerhard Heiberg, a Norwegian member who heads the IOC marketing commission, praised the overall organization but said the games weren’t as lively as hoped.
“We feared that a little bit,” Heiberg said. “We were warned about this. The TV pictures are wonderful, the competitions are wonderful, the venues are great. But I feel a bit the lack of enthusiasm and the joy of sports.”
Heiberg said the issue had reached the highest levels of the International Olympic Committee.
“There are not enough people,” he said. “You have seen the stadiums are not filled.”
Some events, like figure skating, have been packed. Others, like biathlon, have been half-empty.
The men’s downhill — considered the marquee event of the Olympic Alpine ski schedule — failed to draw a full house Sunday, with a turnout of about 6,000 fans at the 7,500-capacity venue. Alpine skiing has little tradition in Russia and the games haven’t pulled in the cowbell-ringing crowds familiar in Western Europe.
Gian-Franco Kasper, a Swiss IOC member who heads the international ski federation, complained before the games that the capacity for spectators in the mountains had been reduced by several thousand.
“The great emotions lack so far in the outdoor venues, but that was to be expected,” he told German news agency DPA on Monday.
The Atlantic reports that Sochi organizers are scrambling to find volunteers to fill the empty seats and make the visuals on TV look a bit more appealing.
The empty seats aren’t necessarily due to a lack of sales. Part of the problem is that ticket-holders haven’t shown up. Some 80 percent of ticket inventory has been sold, according to Olympic organizers, but threats of terrorist attacks, logistical issues, and a seeming lack of interest has left certain spectacles pretty spectator-less. As many as 4,000 people didn’t make it to their seats over the first two days of competition.
Which is why the local Olympic committee is getting clever about how it fills those rows upon rows of seats. To prevent empty stands being caught on camera, they’re getting volunteers to fill them. “If we see there isn’t a turnout and there are seats available, yes, we invite some of the volunteers to join in,” said Alexandra Kosterina, a local Olympic committee spokeswoman, during a news conference.
While it isn’t the first time a host country has filled its seats creatively—London did so with soldiers back in 2012—it’s particularly embarrassing considering that Sochi is minuscule in size compared to past Olympic games. In London, for example, there were over 8 million tickets available. In Vancouver, there were about one million. In Sochi, there are only about 500,000.
Lots of fans disguised as empty seats in Sochi. #SECBasketballFever— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) February 8, 2014